The Archaeological Survey of India's efforts to give Delhi's two world heritage monuments a new look have not found favour with conservationists.
Most of the Qutub Minar's buff sandstone has been replaced with pink blocks up to the first storey while the Humayun Tomb has patches of new marble and light-pink sandstone slabs all over. Conservationists say this is against international conservation norms for heritage sites. The norms require that the authenticity of the structures is maintained.
A senior ASI official said some sandstone slabs at the Qutub had to be replaced as the iron dowels holding them together had rusted and expanded. Result: the stones cracked and started crumbling. He said since conservation and management plans were not mandatory when the Qutub Minar and the Humayun Tomb were given Unesco's World Heritage Site status, none were prepared.
But Nicole Bolomey, programme specialist (culture) at Unesco's Delhi office said management and conservation plans were a must for all world heritage sites. "These plans have to be prepared by well-qualified conservation architects," she said. "Management and conservation plans are obligatory for the continuance of world heritage status recognition."
At the Qutub Minar, ochre and buff stones have been replaced with pink and cream ones. While the original veneer stones are hand-chiselled and have a dull shine, the new ones are machine-cut. The Qutub's renovation was completed earlier this year. Work has now started on Imam Zamin's tomb adjacent to it.
At the Humayun Tomb, several sandstone blocks on the plinth level have been replaced.
They too do not match the brick-red slabs used in the original structure. At some places, single slabs have been replaced with two new ones, changing the architectural detail. In places where old marble slabs have been replaced with new, the surrounding slabs have got chipped or damaged at the edges.
OP Jain, convener of the Delhi chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, says "minimal intervention" is the rule for heritage monuments. If the damage is irreparable, then identical material has to be used and proper documentation should be done so that any researcher can evaluate whether the restoration has been done in the right manner.
Conservation architect Nalini Thakur, who had protested against similar stone-replacement work at the Qutub over a decade ago, says a proper policy has to be put in place. The philosophy and guidelines for heritage conservation have to be well defined if the country's rich heritage is to be preserved, she says.
ASI Director General C Babu Rajeev said he could not comment on the issue.